SUMMARY: The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) has slammed the various business and political interests for manipulating the trauma of the Lily Mine community to serve their own agendas. The Union bemoans the endless litigation involved in the business rescue process and the fact that narrow political and business interests have hijacked the commemoration and the cause. AMCU still insists that the State must intervene in the matter so that the container can be retrieved, and the families can get closure.
This coming Sunday, 5 February 2023 will mark seven (7) years since the day on which the collapse of a mine shaft at the Lily Mine in Barberton, Mpumalanga trapped a container with three (3) mineworkers underground. The three mineworkers, Pretty Nkambule, Yvonne Mnisi and Solomon Nyirenda remain underground since the incident, and their families and loved ones are still left without closure.
Every year since 2017, AMCU convened a public commemoration of the Lily Mine Disaster in remembrance of the trapped mineworkers. These commemorations, organised for the families and loved ones of the trapped mineworkers, are often attended by stakeholders in business as well as the DMRE.
Since the Disaster, various business interests have been embroiled in what seems to be endless litigation. Various judges have, when handing down judgments in these cases, come out clear that the delays are unacceptable in the face of the socio-economic hardships faced by the families who have lost their loved ones, the workers who have lost their jobs, and the communities who suffer in poverty.
“As AMCU, we have noted these endless legal battles and how it deprives our comrades from closure”, said AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa. “These businesses have only one interest, as businesses do, and that is to make profit. They will disregard anything in their fight for a piece of the gold in Lily Mine”, he said. “As the African proverb goes: When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers”, he added.
“We find it very telling that businesses and politicians have now hijacked the commemoration of this disaster, and that they even have the nerve to invite AMCU to attend a commemoration which was established by AMCU. We decided that we will not attend and be ambushed in serving their narrow interests – to avoid unnecessary conflict and reputational damage”, Mathunjwa said.
“Over the years, AMCU has tried everything it its power to recover the container and bring closure to the disaster. Letters were written to both ministers of Mineral and Energy Resources, Honourable Mosebenzi Zwane and Honourable Gwede Mantashe. Formal requests were directed to both the former State President Jacob Zuma and the sitting State President Cyril Ramaphosa, but none of these letters were even answered.
“At the end of the day, the State remains the custodian of the mineral riches in the soil of our country”, said Mathunjwa. “It is this same government that must come to the rescue, so if government is not cooperative or they don’t see it fit to bring up the container, all our efforts are for naught. We have exhausted all channels available in a democratic state, but it has fallen on deaf ears”, bemoaned Mathunjwa.
“When the Lily Mine Disaster took place, nobody was interested. There were no politicians or businessmen circling around that mine like vultures in the desert. It was just AMCU who made a call to the Nation and devoted great resources in raising awareness”, he said. “South Africans responded positively and the public awareness of what happened to those who were trapped, and their loved ones, became known to everybody”, said Mathunjwa.
“But today we see all kinds of interests – business, political and others – who are fighting each other over the gold left in the belly of the earth. They are fighting endlessly, while the container remains underground, and the families and communities remain in poverty and without livelihoods. It has become a turf for political expediency, disregarding the pains of the people and abusing this same pain to build their political and business empires. But, at the end of the day, there is no honour amongst thieves”, said Mathunjwa.
“We want to emphasise that we, as AMCU, do not support any of the business or political interests in this matter. All we have ever wanted is for healing and closure for all those involved. Since the collapse of the mine, we continuously called upon government to declare Lily Mine a National Disaster in order to access resources to retrieve the container, but they couldn’t and now they are able to call a National Disaster for Eskom – a self-created crisis. I still maintain that the life of a black person in Africa is cheap. You are just a number – not a human being”, Mathunjwa concluded.
For interviews: President Joseph Mathunjwa